Sunday, May 31, 2009
I'm joined by some of our feline residents...
Deciding it was too bright and too hot to be working under the glare of the sun, I opt for the shade of an orange parasol in the back yard.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Making a jazz noise here!
Cheer Me, Perverts
Flat Earth Society
You get a lot of bang for you buck with the sixth album released by Belgium's Flat Earth Society. A cavalcade of extrovert performances erupt from this 14-piece group boasting tuba, trombone, trumpet, clarinet, euphonium, various saxes, keyboards, accordion, electric guitar and a riotous rhythm section in its line-up.
The intriguing album title comes from an anagram of the name of group leader Peter Vermeersch and he guides his top-notch players through the same anarchic territory as their last release, Psychoscout (2006), like some wild-eyed pied piper.
Recalling the madcap ensemble tendencies of Loose Tubes or the wry flourishes of Kurt Weill arranged for a Burlesque house band, every piece shines with exuberant, provocative charts.
Themes and variations jump out on top of each in a series of frenetic cat and mouse ambushes with the intricately scripted cartoonish violence of one of Scott Bradley's more fantastical Tom & Jerry scores.
Occasionally Vermeersch dials down the mayhem long enough to allow moments of exquisite sensitivity to be revealed, allowing the listener to pause for breath. Yet too often these are swamped in an avalanche of blaring horns and instrumental comedy routines.
This is a pity because whilst you can't fault the overall playing and inventive air, the hyperactive mania of the arrangements provokes a certain fatigue after a while.
Nevertheless big, bold and frequently not so much zany as just plain daft, full marks for the full-on gusto with which these Flat Earthers hurl themselves over the edge.
This review originally appeared here.
Friday, May 29, 2009
Crosby, Still, & Nash
It is part of the enduring myth surrounding the making the first Crosby, Stills and Nash album that our three heroes more or less bumped into each other, accidentally burst into song and Bob’s your uncle – a ground-breaking supergroup was born.
Such mythologizing appeals directly into the public’s love and desire to maintain the plucky, spontaneous “let’s do the show right here” showbiz cliché. But such an account actually undersells the amount of work these three musicians put into honing their god-given talent.
These recordings show how the trio worked on crafting their songs and sometimes, it’s the contrast between its native state and its final shape that piques one’s interest.
In its demo form, Graham Nash’s "Marrakesh Express" is agreeable enough lightweight ditty. However, it’s only when Stephen Stills, in his ‘Captain Manyhands’ role, adds the sun-kissed guitars and evocative chugging Hammond organ that its bug-to-butterfly transition is completed.
That evolutionary process is particularly evident on two cuts from David Crosby. The belligerent, freak-flag flying protest of "Almost Cut My Hair" begins life introspectively musing upon an ideologically embattled America at war with itself. This version is the calm before the storm but no less powerful.
With "Carry On", Crosby has the song mapped out but spends several minutes scat singing, chasing down both feel and mood, sensing the stress points and the potential paths to glory. Listening to it is eavesdropping on an artist caught in the creative act.
When you add to this their respective solo records were all written and released in the same period, you begin to grasp just how brief but utterly magnificent their reign was.
This review first appeared here.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
At lunch time we took a walk out to Croxley Green itself...
Tragically for me my right ankle is badly swollen and walking is even more painful than it usually is. As we prepare to leave I abandon my rickety old shoes and opt instead for Croc comfort.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
We headed off to see the Tate's re-staging of the only exhibition that William Blake had in his life time. Other highlights for me included a John Martin painting that I hadn't seen before. Another bonus included the Rothko and Turner rooms.
After Tate Britain we took a walk along the embankment toward the seat of British democracy, the place where some MP's think tax payers should stump up for their gardening, bath plugs, mortgage payments and capital gains tax.
Oliver Cromwell is saying nothing...
Over the road where there's a demonstration, Winston Churchill is keeping schtum as well...
I asked one of the policemen at Downing Street if Gordon Brown is at home as my pals and I want to have a few words with him. "He's up your neck of the woods" replies the officer with the rifle in his hands.
We find a nearby pub...
Then a nearby Chinese restaurant....
Then the crowds in Leicester Square...
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
This morning however, the smile was far from my face as we headed off to Newcastle airport and an early morning flight down to Stansted.
From Lowe to high, ho-ho.
We're going to spend a couple of days with Alo and Gordon. Alo and Debra used to go to school together. Alo's husband, Gordon, (aka Gordallmighty), also happens to be Debra's cousin.
I had some unfinished work to file and so before heading off into London itself, Deb and I grabbed a cup of tea whilst I bashed out some words.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Calm & Collected...
The near-universal acclamation of last year's Liejacker ensures that there’ll be an intense spotlight on Thea Gilmore’s follow-up whenever that may come. Perhaps a glimpse of what's to come can in the found in the plaintive loneliness of new track "You And Frank Sinatra" - one of two new pieces included on this set.
In the meantime, the first live album of her career necessarily represents something of a holding pattern, touching upon most aspects of her back catalogue, providing a point at which to summarise and take stock.
In one or two instances renditions of tracks such as "Old Soul" and "The Lower Road" are improvements upon their studio counterparts despite, or more likely, because of the absence of guest vocalists Zuton's Dave McCabe and folk legend Joan Baez respectively.
Have You Heard from 2003's Avalanche, whilst clearly owing a structural debt to Leonard Cohen's "Everybody Knows" is an undoubted highpoint, as is "My Own Private Riot", containing Jim Kirkpatrick's wonderfully contrarian guitar breaks.
It's evident that Gilmore enjoys a good rapport with an appreciative audience. Yet, whilst the backing on the rockabilly roustabout of the vintage "This Girl Is Taking Bets" pushes and strains at the bit, Gilmore seems as glacially calm as she does on the stately ballad, "Icarus Wind."
It's a method of delivery that suggests either a curious detachment or a vice-like grip that could do with loosening up a touch.
This review first appeared here.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Arriving in Coventry via Birmingham some time after 1.00 p.m.
Prior to the performance at 4.00 pm, the afternoon light begins to play upon the stained glass,bringing the space to life.
This intensely colourful display presages the music produced by Theo and Robert.
Around 300 or so people gathered in this impressive space. The format was different to the previous shows with two sets each lasting around 40 minutes, joining the angels high up in the rafters of the cathedral.
The last piece of the tour was also the longest. Similar to the Threnody 'scapes of a few years ago, it grew from shrill, single notes into an enormous, complex cloud of shifting density and mood. Theo's looped flute created slowly undulating eddies of notes whilst the soprano added piercing shafts of light. This was new territory for the duo and the weight of it in this venue was profound and moving.
When it came a dead stop - ushered in by a three or four note guitar motif - the silence which followed its conclusion provided an uplifting, cathartic release. Then came the thunderous applause.
As that echoed around the place, Robert came off and we exchanged looks and comments along the lines of "Where did that come from?" Where indeed.
After saying goodbye to Theo and Trev, I met up with Bernard, Lesley and Debbie who'd driven down from Newcastle.
We left Coventry and drove over to Birmingham to swap one piece of post-war architecture for another...The Strathallan Hotel on the Hagley Road.
There was only enough time to book in, drop our bags and head out again...
...to our evening engagement with old chums Neil and Halina who had a glass of bubbly waiting for the very moment of our arrival.
Neil's claim to fame (at least as far as I'm concerned) is the a) having seen The Soft Machine circa 1968 and b) having once shared a hospital ward with the singer, Leapy Lee, who was wagging it there during a period of detention at Her Majesty's Pleasure.
A lovely evening to a remarkable day's music.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Inside the boys were soundchecking...
The concert was introduced by PJ Crook to a crowd of regular church goers, the curious and T&F fans. Though some territories were familiar, the tone and feel was different tonight.
There was a beautiful moment when one piece finished: complete silence from the audience - only the background whirring of the heating system thrummed against the old stones of the place.
At another point in the performance, Robert asked us to celebrate the impending marriage of Adrian and Andrea, something everyone in the building did with great gusto! How special for them I thought. And it couldn't have happened to a nicer couple.
My impression was that tonight's performance was a touch longer than last night in Broad Chalke but I could be wrong - my sense of time gets sliced and diced with this music.
Afterwards, Trevor and I helped Trev strip the equipment down and help load the van. Having chronic back trouble got me out of the heavy lifting but I was able to roll up a few leads and wheel the odd box of tricks to the van outside.
We made it back to Chez Lever (taking an hour and half), reflecting on our three days together and acknowledging our luck at being in the right place and the right time in order to be able to hear this music.